Posts Tagged ‘New Wave’

The Heaters: American Dream – The Portastudio Recordings

Friday, September 2nd, 2016

Heaters_AmericanDreamLos Angeles new wave band turns to girl group sounds in 1983

“The Heaters” is a popular band name. There was a Danish garage rock band, a Seattle quartet (who shortened their name to the Heats), a UK power pop band, a punk band, a reggae group, a funk band, a Los Angeles new wave band that recorded for Ariola and Columbia, and more recently, a trio from Grand Rapids. This Heaters is the Los Angeles group, one that felt their studio albums never really captured their sound. In frustration, they recorded themselves on a 4-track TASCAM Portastudio – home multitrack technology that’s commonplace today, but not so in 1983 – and doubled down on the nostalgic elements of their earlier works. In particular, the core creative trio of Mercy, Maggy and Missie wrote and recorded original, 60s-influenced girl group music.

The tapes were offered to Rhino, but the label heard them as demos rather than finished product, and the group declined to re-record. Released more than 30 years later, you can hear both the label and group’s points of view. Wary of their previous experience with record companies, studios and producers, the group chose to protect the fidelity of their art. What the label likely heard was a tension between the group’s ideas of grandly imagined pop and the realities of producing yourself for the first time on a 4-track cassette. What Rhino failed to hear, or perhaps wasn’t interested in, was the group’s tuneful fusion of a DIY aesthetic with a deep appreciation for 1960s craft. Others (e.g., Denny Ward) had successfully explored this pairing on indie releases, leaving one to wonder why the Heaters didn’t do the same.

What’s comes through loud and clear on these tapes is the siren’s call of the Blossoms, Crystals, Ronettes, Shirelles, Shangri-Las, Marvelettes and others. Several of the songs, including the beautifully crooned “Every Living Day,” could pass for vintage if their 1980s origins weren’t tipped by the guitars. The album’s centerpiece, “10,000 Roses,” borrows the iconic drumbeat of “Be My Baby,” and though its melody, lyric and vocal would have made the Brill Building proud, it’s slightly ragged mix is probably what Rhino thought could be tweaked. Still, even with the “oom-mow-mow” backing vocal popping out of the pocket, you can’t help but be charmed by the song and its Spanish-flavored acoustic guitar solo.

Many of the songs would have been at home in the early-60s, but the theme gets modern with “Sandy.” The song’s baion beat and stagey vocal might suggest inspiration from West Side Story or Grease, but the gender confusion at the lyric’s heart would have raised eyebrows in 1963. The girl group focus slips a bit more as “Rock This Place” moves into the 1970s, and elsewhere there’s a muscular rock sound akin to Robin Lane and Ellen Foley. These steps outside the narrow lane of the 1960s propels the album beyond an exercise in nostalgia, and fills out the group’s reach. This may not have been right for Rhino, but Bomp should have picked it up. Thirty-three years is too long to have waited to hear this, but better late than never. [©2016 Hyperbolium]

The Heaters’ Home Page

Raging Fire: Everything is Roses – 1985-1989

Sunday, November 8th, 2015

RagingFire_EverythingIsRosesMid-80s post-punk from the heart of country music

From a vantage point on the West Coast, Jason and the Nashville Scorchers seemed to be an anomaly – a rock band from Nashville – and when they dropped “Nashville” from their name, the connection between Music City and native-born rock music grew even more tenuous. But the Scorchers turn out to be both the nationally known emblem of and an inspiration for a lively Nashville rock scene that was broader than the mating of country and punk. A less widely known darling of that scene was Raging Fire, whose mid-to-late ‘80s catalog is sampled for this 22-track anthology.

Fronted by vocalist Melora Zaner, Raging Fire could pull back and give hints of their Nashville origins, but the band’s dynamic rock ‘n’ roll rage was more in line with the barking poetry of Patti Smith, post-punk of X and new wave studio sounds of the 80s, than southern rock or country twang. Even the band’s acoustic numbers, such as “After Loving One Man From East Texas,” have some bite. Had they been in San Francisco or Los Angeles, or five years later in Olympia, things might have been different; but as it played out, they attracted attention from record labels, but never closed a deal.

The group toured the midwest and south, and gained college radio play for their EP A Family Thing and album Faith Love Was Made Of. The former is included here in its entirety, the latter sampled alongside demos and tracks drawn from compilation albums. Without a label deal, the band’s momentum stalled, the members’ lives moved in different directions, and the group drifted and broke apart. With this first-ever reissue, it’s still hard to imagine this music coming out of Nashville, but even harder to imagine there wasn’t one label who could get this band signed. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Raging Fire’s Home Page

Danny Elfman: So-Lo

Sunday, May 17th, 2015

DannyElfman_SoLoOingo Boingo front man steps out solo… with Oingo Boingo

Just before commencing a career in film scoring, Danny Elfman cut this solo album in 1984. The following year he would score Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and his career as a composer would quickly kick into high gear. Elfman’s score for 1980’s Forbidden Zone suggested his future direction, but this solo album was more tightly connected to the sound of Oingo Boingo (who were in the middle of a two-year hiatus, and a change of record labels between Good for Your Soul and Dead Man’s Party) than his soon-to-be-developing ideas for film scores.

If you like mid-80s Oingo Boingo, you will enjoy this solo outing, which features similar synths, guitars, horns, drums and vocal styles. With Oingo Boingo serving as his backing band, it’s unsurprising that this sounds like an Oingo Boingo album, albeit with a few mid-tempo numbers that might never have made the Boingo cut. Varese’s reissue adds the single mix of “Gratitude” (from the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop) to the original nine tracks. The eight-page booklet includes the original front and back cover art, lyrics and new liner notes by Jerry McCulley. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Translator: Sometimes People Forget

Tuesday, April 7th, 2015

Translator_SometimesPeopleForgetA treasure trove of demos from 1980s powerhouse

Translator’s 1982 modern rock classic “Everywhere That I’m Not” turned out to be an ironic title, since it was itself everywhere. The record’s canny combination of an impassioned post-punk vocal, a singalong chorus and the rocket fuel of Columbia Records’ distribution network launched the single on both college and commercial radio. Translator formed in Los Angeles, but found their home on Howie Klein’s San Francisco-based 415 label, alongside Romeo Void, Wire Train and Red Rockers. The group’s debut, Heartbeats and Triggers, gained deep album play on college radio just as the medium was itself was gaining traction as a tastemaker. The band recorded three more albums, showing off talent and imagination that spanned well beyond their new wave breakthrough, but they never again caught the popular heat of their debut.

This volume of demos is centered around that key year of 1982, collecting early, pre-LP material from 1979, and extending through tracks recorded at the time of their self-titled third album in 1985. Most familiar to most listeners will be the demos of “Everywhere That I’m Not” and its album-mate “Necessary Spinning.” Each is surprisingly finished in its attitude and arrangement, sounding ready for both the studio and stage. The former is among four recordings by the original trio lineup, waxed before guitarist Robert Darlington joined the band. The band’s first two demos, “Translator” and “Lost,” show how the band merged rock ‘n’ roll roots – rockabilly, surf and mod – with a harder punk delivery. By 1980 the group had grown into the quartet that would stay together throughout their four 1980’s albums, and regroup for 2012’s Big Green Lawn.

The demos include material from each of those four original albums, including an early version of “Beyond Today,” titled “Get Out.” The demo’s raw sound – particularly its dry vocals – contrasts sharply with the album’s polished production; the original on-the-nose protest lyrics were smartly replaced by more open-ended, philosophical thoughts. In many cases, the album versions only lightly brushed up what was already in the demos, clarifying the acoustics, enlarging the drums and tightening the guitars. What will be especially interesting to fans are the songs that never made it past demo form, including the post-punk “Lost,” prog-rock “Fiendish Thingy,” punk rock “Optimism,” neo-psych “We Fell Away,” French language “My Restless Heart,” hard-rocking “Brouhaha” and the superb set closer “I’ll Be Your Summer.”

Those looking to expand on their memory of “Everywhere That I’m Not” should start with the group’s debut or a compilation of album tracks. But if you’ve already picked up the group’s catalog, this 22-track set, curated by Steve Barton, is a great place to continue. In addition to songs that never made it to a final studio version, the unrefined edges of the demos provide insight into the band’s vision of themselves. Better yet, several of the tracks were recorded live-in-the-studio, giving fans a chance to re-live the band’s stage dynamic. Translator’s breakthrough in the post-punk new wave era turns out to have been more a matter of timing than of musical destiny, as these demos show their range was a great deal wider than could make it on MTV or commercial radio. The disc’s 20-page booklet includes quotes from David Kahne, Ed Stasium, Steve Berlin and detailed liners by Steve Barton. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

Steve Barton’s Home Page
Translator’s Home Page

Billy Thermal: Billy Thermal

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

BillyThermal_BillyThermalA hit songwriter’s long-lost New Wave beginnings

If you read album credits, you might recognize this little-known band’s main man, Billy Steinberg, from the hit singles he’s written for everyone from Linda Ronstadt to Demi Lovato. But before penning “How Do I Make You,” “Eternal Flame,” “True Colors,” “I’ll Stand By You,” “I Touch Myself,” and “Like a Virgin,” Steinberg started a band, and named it after himself and the town in which his father owned a vineyard. Signed by producer Richard Perry to his new Planet Records label, Steinberg and his guitarist, Craig Hull, produced an album of original material that, save for “I’m Gonna Follow You” (which turned up on the Sharp Cuts compilation) failed to gain Perry’s attention. Released from their contract, an EP‘s worth of tracks (1, 2, 6, 8 and 10) gained indie release in 1982, but the rest was left in the vault.

But even stuck in a vault, the material yielded results, as three of the album’s songs and one unreleased demo were picked up by other artists. Ronstadt took “How Do I Make You” to #10 in 1980, Pat Benetar recorded “I’m Gonna Follow You” and “Precious Time,” and Rick Nelson waxed a version of “Don’t Look at Me” for his last album. The seeds of Steinberg’s songwriting success were sewn, but like a lot of songwriters, his dream of making it as a performer was not realized. The album was sharply written, played and produced and today offers itself as a bridge between the power-pop of the Raspberries and Rubinoos and the punchy new wave of the Cars. It’s an album you might have found in a cut-out bin and proselytized relentlessly to your friends – Robin Lane & The Chartbusters, anyone? – and it’s an album you’d have wished was on CD. And now, finally, it is, and spiced with bonus demos.

This is also an album that should have launched “How Do I Make You” and “I’ll Tell You My Dreams” on MTV. Perhaps Planet was too busy with Sue Saad and the Next to push another rock band, or maybe the combination of angular new wave, pop harmonies, punk rock attitude and a few progressive changes wasn’t simple enough to market. It’s hard to imagine this barrel full of hooks, terrific guitar sounds, punchy drumming and adenoidal vocals wouldn’t have found a place alongside the Vapors, Oingo Boingo and XTC. Omnivore’s reissue includes a 16-page booklet that features liner notes by Billy Steinberg, lyrics and a few period photos. After a few spins you’ll swear Billy Thermal was one of the bands that hooked you into saying “let’s just wait for one more video.” [©2014 Hyperbolium]

Billy Steinberg’s Home Page

Various Artists: Canine Classics, Volume 1

Sunday, March 9th, 2014

Various_CanineClassicsVolume1Clever dog-themed remakes of pop hits

Bay Area music legends Dick Bright (Bammies, SRO, Dick Bright Orchestra) and Tommy Dunbar (Rubinoos, Vox Pop) have teamed up to produce an album of dog-themed treats. Each track re-imagines a popular song – including tin-pan alley classics, ’50s rock and doo-wop, ’60s pop, ’70s soul and ’80s new wave – as it should have been, written in the voice of, or about, a dog. There are a few Singing Dogs-styled barks, but mostly Bright and Dunbar draw upon their talented human friends for the vocals. For the most part, these songs retain their original mood, but with the subject shifted a dog’s perspective. The Irish ballad “Danny Boy” retains its sense of loss, longing and renewal as “Chewy Toy,” and the Vapors’ bouncy “Turning Japanese” is transformed into the equally catchy “Turning Pekingese.” The collection’s most clever trick is Maurice Williams & The Zodiac’s doo-wop “Stay,” a song whose title clearly anticipated this collection. Shirley Ellis’ “The Name Game” is just as dance-worthy when riffing on classic dog names  and the Champs’ “Tequila” stays South of the border as “Chihuahua.” Dunbar has previously dabbled in both covers and childen’s music with the Rubinoos, and Dick Bright etched his name in the mash-up cover song hall of fame with “Gilligan’s Island (Stairway).” Their combined humor and musicianship makes this collection fun for kids without wearing out its welcome with the elders. The CD is delivered in a Hugh Brown-designed, hard-bound 30-page book that features lyrics, photos and even a dog advice column. All in all, it’s a howl. [©2014 Hyperbolium]

The Waitresses: Just Desserts – The Complete Waitresses

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Waitresses_JustDessertsYour order for a Waitresses catalog reissue has finally arrived

For those only acquainted with the Waitresses through media play, their career likely consists of “I Know What Boys Like,” “Christmas Wrapping” and “Square Pegs.” The first was their lone U.S. chart success, bubbling up to #62, gaining video airplay on MTV and becoming the band’s icon. The second charted in the UK, and its inclusion on the compilation A Christmas Record gained it additional turntable action in the states. The third was the title theme for a short-lived television show that’s now become an ’80s nostalgia favorite, Their debut album, Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?, almost cracked the Top 40, a follow-up EP, I Could Rule the World if I Could Only Get the Parts, and LP, Bruisology, bubbled under the Top 100. Commercially, that was just about it, a small catalog over a few years, which makes the band’s longevity in listener’s memories all the more impressive.

The Waitresses grew out of an Akron, Ohio music scene that was spotlighted in 1978 by Stiff Records release of Devo’s “Be Stiff” and the multi-artist Akron Compilation. The latter featured three tracks by the Waitresses (“The Comb,” “Slide” and “Clones,” not included here) alongside several acts (Rachel Sweet, Tin Huey and Jane Aire) that would also get label deals. Songwriter Chris Butler was the engine behind both Tin Huey and the Waitresses, but vocalist Patty Donahue’s deadpan delivery gave the latter their signature sound. The Waitresses appeared on several more compilations (Bowling Balls from Hell, A Christmas Record and Bowling Balls from Hell II) and released “I Know What Boys Like” as an unsuccessful single in 1980 before stepping up to their 1982 debut LP. The LP showed Butler’s knack for writing in a 20-something female’s voice and Donahue’s convincing enactments to be a potent combination.

Butler wrote songs of women coming into their own; women gaining confidence, independence, introspection, wisdom, control and self-improvement, rather than girls wallowing in broken hearts, dependence or defeat. The group followed their first album with an EP that gathered together “Christmas Wrapping,” “Square Pegs” and its B-side “The Smartest Person I Know,” and added “Bread and Butter” and “I Could Rule the World if I Could Only Get the Parts.” The latter was a tight, ska-influenced live version of a song Butler had previously recorded with Tin Huey in a more Zappa-influenced style. Disc one closes with the funky, experimental instrumental “Hangover,” which had been released as the B-side of the 1983 UK reissue of “Christmas Wrapping.”

The set’s second disc opens with the group’s second and final album, continuing the self-empowered themes of their earlier releases, but with a darker, less naively buoyant tone. The group’s punchy mix of rock, ska, funk and jazz continued to read a line between almost-commercial pop and no-wave experimentalism. What becomes really clear is that the Waitresses were a lot deeper, musically and lyrically, than their novel hits suggested. Donahue left the band the following year and was briefly replaced by Holly Beth Vincent (late of Holly and the Italians), and though the former quickly returned, the band was essentially over by the end of 1984. Disc two adds remixed versions of “Bread and Butter” that were originally released as a DJ 12″. The two-disc set gathers together the band’s key releases, omitting only their pre-LP single, contributions to a few compilations, and a live set available separately from the King Biscuit Flower Hour. For those who’ve made do with original vinyl that’s long since shown its age, this is the replacement you’ve been waiting for. [©2013 Hyperbolium]

Chris Butler’s Blog

Three Hits: Pressure Dome

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

ThreeHits_RSD13Reissue of obscure 1985 Hib-tone single + bonuses

Three Hits was a short-lived mid-80s band with some very special credentials. The band was co-founded at Appalachian State University by Sheila Valentine and Michael Kurtz, the latter of whom later co-founded Record Store Day. The group’s jangly new wave fit easily into a North Carolina scene that included Glass Moon, Arrogance, X-Teens and others. The group’s second single, “Pressure Dome” b/w “Numbers” was produced by Don Dixon at Mitch Easter’s Drive-In Studio and released on Hib-Tone, a label better known for R.E.M.’s debut. The group played shows at CBGB and Maxwell’s, and recorded an eight-song LP, Fire in the House, with the Records’ Huw Gower producing several of the tracks. In celebration of Record Day, the Hib-Tone single is being reissued on a 12″ purple vinyl EP with the previously unreleased Dixon-produced “Picture Window,” and two Gower-produced tracks, “Cage of Gold” and “Lori (Last Girl on the Beach).” A digital download card provides two additional previously unreleased tracks: “Just One of the Guys” and “Wild Volcano.” A really welcome, and really obscure, blast from the past. [©2013 Hyperbolium]